When people first meet me and hear that I am a dog trainer, they immediately say, "You're like the Dog Whisperer!" which sends chills down my spine. A million things run through my mind - I want to retaliate, I want to flip through tons of position statements from rescues, veterinarians, behaviorists, ethologists, researchers - all shunning the concept of training that is employed by The Dog Whisperer. But that would just be weird. People would think I am crazy and end up not listening anyway. So, instead, I just kindly smile and say, "well, we have different views about dog training."
There was a time when "whispering" meant being in-tune emotionally and spiritually. A time when "whispering" was a hands-off approach and required the "whisperer" to reach deep into their inner spirit in order to connect with their subject. The phrase has changed and it now means, to the general public, that I am a dog trainer that performs miracles by being Alpha and not allowing dogs to dominate me. What I actually do is so completely opposite that it actually hurts to hear people compare "whisperers" with me.
I won't go in to the details of the quadrants of operant conditioning. I will spare you the scientific babble that happens to make the behavior nerd in me giddy with joy. What I will ask is this: what does a trainer like myself have to say to convince someone that is using punitive, correction-based, whisper-training to stop? Because, let's face it. No one likes an activist unless you're already on their side. And by then, I'm just preachin' to the choir. How do I reach out and explain to people that there is no need to force, dominate, yell, scream, say "NO!", push, yank (how many more verbs can I throw in here??) in order to achieve a well-trained, obedient (and dare I say...happier!??) dog?
The interesting thing is: many people don't know the damage they are doing to their dogs because, bless their hearts, some dogs can be VERY resilient. Additionally, the owners aren't always doing it to terrorize their dogs. Owners are training this way, well, because that's the way people have done it for years! It's just how it's done. For example, the age old remedy for a dog that pees in the house is to take him to the spot (often WAY to long after the fact) put his nose in it and say "NO!", followed sometimes by a swat on the nose. What owners don't understand is that this actually teaches the dog that pee is bad, not the ACT of peeing in the house. It tells them you, as their owner, do not like pee. So what do they do? They hide it! They go in corners, they go behind the couch...just to spare you the icky pee that you clearly do not like. Aren't they so thoughtful??
Teaching your dog that you are the master isn't necessary, either. If you do it right, they'll figure it out (if you feel that that's even necessary - personally, I do not...) If you provide the shelter, food, water, guidance and exercise you will be seen as very valuable to your dog. That's when you have the decision: either command that your dog listen via force, etc. or teach your dog to trust you via proper positive-reinforcement training. That final piece is what contributes to the relationship you will have with your dog. And it's the relationship that determines whether the dog looks to you for true guidance.
So, instead of me getting on a soapbox every time someone refers to me as the Dog Whisperer, how would you suggest I tactfully and politely decline this title?